A personal reflection on life in covenant community which began in Ann Arbor, Michigan USA in 1970
A while ago I was giving a talk about covenant commitment to people interested in joining Antioch, the Sword of the Spirit community here in London. We were nearing the end of the course and I was supposed to review for the participants what the ceremony would be like when they made their underway commitments. As I spoke to them, the scene came easily to mind of that prayer meeting in Ann Arbor several years earlier (now 50 years ago) when the first ones of us – in what now has become the communities movement – got up and said, one by one, “I want to give my life fully to God and live as a member of the Word of God” (as our community back then was called).
I was 21 at the time and a bit nervous, but not at all about whether I was doing the right thing. What the Lord had been speaking to us about covenant relationship and what we had been experiencing living as brothers and sisters made me sure that this was just the thing I wanted to be doing with my life. I was nervous because I sensed that this was a solemn occasion: that the Lord was doing something of massive proportions in the world and that he had invited us, imperfect as we were, to cooperate with him in it.
Since then I’ve had the privilege of living in other Christian communities, even helping to build some, and each time I’ve had the same experience: that this business of living together in committed relationships is normal Christianity – that it’s the way he meant all of his people to live, and that when people enter into it, they find that it’s not a bizarre way of life but eminently reasonable. It fits the human person and – despite all the challenges and relationship difficulties and sometimes tears and sorrow – it calls out the best in us, in Christ.
In the early 1990s I had to be away from the U.S. and saw from a distance some of the hard times of division. By the time circumstances allowed me again to choose where I should plant myself, I looked at the various options and realized that what I had initially signed up for on the day of my public commitment had stood the test of time. What I still wanted to do with my life was to be in a long-term, covenant relationship with men and women called by the Lord who wanted the Lord to use them, not as individuals but as members of a whole people. I wanted to be doing what I had set out to do as a young man, and the natural consequence was to fully invest myself again in the life of the Sword of the Spirit.
For over 25 years now, I’ve been part of Antioch, a member community of the Sword of the Spirit in London, and I experience the same rich life that was such a delight to me (and opportunity for personal growth) in the early days in Ann Arbor – a common way of life, a common understanding of how to live for Christ with my brothers and sisters, a common mission to be something for him in the world today.
I don’t experience this as particularly easy and I don’t think most of the brothers and sisters in London do either. It’s a stretch almost every day, a walk of faith in the Living God. But I’m pleased to be traveling this road and thankful to the Lord for his faithfulness to his word. He who invited us to this life together is faithful, and he is bringing about what he promised. Even now we see it growing and maturing from those first commitments we made in our youth. One thinks of mustard seeds. May all the glory go to him.
Top photo credit: photo collage of community activities past and present, (c) 2020 Living Bulwark/The Sword of the Spirit